Health after release from prison: investigating health needs for a successful transition back into the community

Mr Craig Cumming1

1University Of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia


Poor health is associated with recidivism and a return to prison. There have been a number of cross-sectional health studies done on prisoners, but few have followed up on health and justice outcomes in the period after release from prison. This paper provides an overview of the Health After Release from Prison (HARP) study which is currently addressing these gaps in the evidence and discusses how academia is intersecting with government and the community through this project.


A cohort of 2701 people within six weeks of release from prisons in QLD (2008-2010) and WA (2013-2016) were administered a detailed health survey at baseline. Participants consented to their administrative health and justice records being accessed for five years before and after index incarceration. Each individual’s survey was linked to their administrative data, creating a rich dataset, enabling the use of robust epidemiological research designs.


Numerous peer-reviewed articles have been published so far investigating issues such as substance use, mental illness, and intellectual disability using only the QLD data. The recent addition of WA administrative data has doubled the size of the sample, expanding the possibilities for future studies. Research findings are routinely shared with relevant government departments and NGOs. Community stakeholders are consulted regularly to provide context to aid with interpreting results.


This unique dataset is facilitating unprecedented research into short, medium and long-term health and justice outcomes for people leaving prison, helping to inform justice policy, particularly during the period after release from prison.


Craig Cumming is a Research Fellow, currently undertaking a PhD at the School of Population and Global Health at the University of Western Australia. Originally coming from a Law and Criminology background, he has been involved in research focusing on the health of people who have contact with the Justice System since 2011. He has spent several years attending Police lockups and prisons to interview detainees and prisoners in person. His work has primarily focused on drug and alcohol use and mental illness in this population.

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